GUEST COLUMN: Gardening and food preservation combat food insecurity

Guest Columnist

Providing tools to promote self-sufficiency has been a primary goal of Community Action Agencies since they were created 50 years ago as a part of the overall War on Poverty.

For the past 47 years, FiveCAP has been giving people the means to provide their own food through gardening and food preservation workshops.

Food insecurity is one of the most prevalent problems for low-income families, with many people troubled on a regular basis with the question of how they are going to put food on the table.

The USDA defines food insecurity in the following way: “At times during the year, these households were uncertain of having, or unable to acquire, enough food to meet the needs of all their members because they had insufficient money or other resources for food. Food-insecure households include those with low food security and very low food security.”

The USDA’s Economic Research Service states that “14.5 percent (17.6 million) of U.S. households were food insecure at some time during 2012.”

Through the Map the Meal Gap project, Feeding America is tracking food insecurity statistics.

In Michigan, according to Feeding America, 16.8 percent of the total population was food insecure in 2012, with 22.3 percent of children experiencing food insecurity. Nearly one in four children in this state was unsure of whether they were going to eat at times, something no one should have to experience, but especially children.

Locally, the statistics were pretty close to the state averages. In Manistee County, 14.1 percent of the total population and 22.3 percent of children experienced food insecurity in 2012. Feeding America also looks at program eligibility for the study, and locally 78 percent of the population was income eligible for food assistance, a figure measured at 185 percent of the federal poverty level.

To give an idea of this, for a family of four, 185 percent of poverty is $44,122.50 annually.

Here at FiveCAP, we have two food programs. Our Commodity Supplemental Food Program is mainly for seniors at or below 130 percent of poverty ($15,171 for a single person), but is also available to some families with young children whose household income is at or below 185 percent of poverty. For this program, we have 1,049 slots available in our four-county service area.

Our other program, The Emergency Food Assistance Program, is open to anyone with income at or below 200 percent of poverty ($23,340 for a single person) and is distributed every three months. In June, we distributed 1,505 packages through this program.

While these programs provide essential assistance to families in need, our recent garden workshop and upcoming food preservation workshop serve a greater purpose. These workshops give people the tools to become self-sufficient, in the vein of the old “teach a man to fish” proverb.

We provided attendees with 18 vegetable plants to start their gardens. A master gardener led the workshop, providing helpful tips and advice regarding how to ensure the best harvest from each plant. In the fall, the food preservation workshop will show people how to keep some of what they’ve grown throughout the winter.

Hunger is terrifying. The prevalence of food insecurity means that thousands of people in our communities are experiencing the fear that accompanies hunger. There is also the lack of control that goes hand in hand with relying on government assistance and local food pantries. Families generally have no choice in the matter and have to make due with whatever they get.

This is why self-sufficiency programs like our garden and food preservation workshops are vitally important. The tools gained through these programs return some control over what they eat to families in need. Control promotes security, and security eliminates fear. And I think we can all agree that the fear that accompanies hunger is something no one in our society should have to face.

Mary Trucks is the executive director FiveCAP, Inc., which serves Lake, Mason, Manistee and Newaygo counties. FiveCAP, Inc. acts as an advocate, catalyst and administrator of more than 40 programs to promote individual and family self sufficiency, utilizing federal, state and local resources to assist in its efforts. Contact Trucks at (231) 723-8327.